According to the NHS ombudsman, around 75 per cent of the investigations by hospitals into complaints that patients suffered avoidable injury or death failed to identify serious failings in care.
Inquiries conducted by hospital staff are so often inadequate that many complainants are left in the dark regarding what was ultimately at fault.
The parliamentary and health service ombudsman, has demanded an urgent overhaul of how hospitals examine serious complaints made against them as a result.
The review conducted regarding internal hospital investigations found that in 73 per cent of cases there was evidence of explicit failings.
Dame Julie Mellor commented that there are massive problems with regard to this issue in the NHS.
“Parents and families are being met with a wall of silence from the NHS when they seek answers as to why their loved one died or was harmed. Our review found that NHS investigations into complaints about avoidable death and harm are simply not good enough. They are not consistent, reliable or transparent, which means that too many people are being forced to bring their complaint to us to get it resolved.”
One of the biggest problems uncovered by the investigation was the failure of NHS institutions to appoint impartial individuals to conduct investigations.
Thus, in 52 per cent of cases examined by Mellor and the ombudsman, the investigation was ultimately led by a doctor who was considered in some way partial.
Additionally, hospitals do a poor job of categorising problems, ensuring communication difficulties within the NHS.
The investigation of the ombudsman found that hospitals failed to categorise just under 75 per cent of cases of avoidable harm, ensuring that they were not adequately investigated.
Mellor added that hospitals’ inquiries into serious injuries or deaths too often fail to gather enough evidence, fail to apply consistent methodology in the search for mistakes, and also tend to examine insufficient material in order to understand problems.
Reflecting on the issue, Rob Webster, the NHS Confederation chief executive, conceded that the NHS had significant room for improvement in this department.
“We know we don’t always get this right and it’s crucial that we learn and improve every time. The Care Quality Commission, ombudsman and others are highlighting major inconsistencies and shortcomings in the handling of complaints and those problems cannot be allowed to continue. So we urgently need to learn from what is working and fix what doesn’t, to ensure patients have complete confidence in the National Health Service.”
This issue can be considered extremely serious considering that it underpins some of the most important aspects of the NHS.